Chef and owner Jeffrey Lundmark has a long history of working in kitchens, dating back to his childhood when he’d bike to work at a burger and taco stand in his hometown of St. Croix Falls, Wis. Like many people, he spent time in his 20s figuring out his career path until finally, after bouncing around the food scene, he attended Le Cordon Bleu school in St. Paul and settled into Domancin Restaurant and Wine Bar in Stillwater for 10 years.
His work ethic has come with him wherever he goes. “I’ve been working in kitchens off and on for the past 20-plus years,” Lundmark says. “It feels natural anytime I am cooking food.”
Like most chefs, he dreamed of his own place, but the logistics were never right. He wanted to own the property and have full control, as both a real estate investment and a restaurant.
Then in 2015, the right building came up for sale, and in September 2016, Wilder Scratch Kitchen of Bayport was born. The locally sourced and from-scratch-themed restaurant is the culmination of Lundmark’s culinary journey, incorporating food combinations from the American South, where he worked for a time, to flavors south of the border, as well as Upper Midwestern comfort fare.
Bayport’s tight-knit community reminds Lundmark of his hometown, he says. The name Wilder Scratch Kitchen conveys a focus on natural ingredients and classic cuisine, combined with modern technique and presentation. With black walnut woodwork and exposed brick, Lundmark defines the ambience as “rustic meets modern industrial” or, more simply, “cozy.”
The menu rotates by the season; he sources as many ingredients as he can from local farms. It’s a practice he’s carried over from his work at Domancin, and it’s the core of his menu. The menu features comfort foods like meatloaf and steak, but also new twists like a chorizo burger or bacon-wrapped, well, anything. The food is both familiar, yet unique.
“It offers a different take on what people are used to having at home on Sundays,” he says. When they try the meatloaf, he doesn’t want them to think of Mom’s recipe. Instead, it should be, “Wow, this is unlike any other meatloaf I’ve ever had,” he says.
Scratch is in the name, but so is “wilder,” which reflects Lundmark’s attraction to food both farmed and foraged. Meat and dairy are locally sourced, as is much of the produce on the menu. Spring items like asparagus, ramps, morels and fiddlehead ferns are grown within 50 miles.
“While we pride ourselves on using as many local purveyors and ingredients as possible, I don’t think it’s feasible to sustain such an ideology year-round in Minnesota,” he says. Because of the cold climate, Wilder doesn’t limit the menu to local items. “The complementary stuff we’re OK sourcing from other places,” he says. (He estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the menu comes from regular restaurant wholesalers.)
For this spring’s menu, Lundmark considered three main factors: local, seasonal and what he wants to cook when he’s at home. He considers ingredients and divvies them up like puzzle pieces to make up the menu.
“There’s nothing between here and downtown St. Paul that offers quite what we do here,” Lundmark says. “Bayport’s been building for years. To witness it firsthand and be a part of it is a cool process.”